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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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The Geodesic Sphere as an Exoskeleton of Life

The Geodesic Sphere as an Exoskeleton of Life

‘The Geodesic Sphere as an Exoskeleton of Life’ is a hybrid of academic research and physical fabrication, embedded by technologies that promote controlled-dynamic behaviours in both micro and macro scales structures. The idea of Earth as the entire overarching vessel of both organic and synthetic collaborative and competing systems was mainly what brought “The ‘reEarth’ Project” concept to life. ReEarth aims to be an embodiment of both organic and synthetic collaborative and competing systems. The geodesic sphere is what better materialize the motivation of this work through both technical and philosophical perspectives. Originally invented by engineers of Carl Zeiss in 1928, and reinvented and popularized 20 years later by R. Buckminster Fuller (Pottmann, Eigensatz, Vaxman, Wallner, 2014), it carries all the connotations and associations with a “model of the Earth”.

Re-earth: Layered as the Earth

Re-earth: Layered as the Earth

Living things can be identified as sharing five common characteristics: an organized structure; requires energy to survive or sustain existence; ability to reproduce, grow, metabolize; and – more relevantly to this work – the ability to respond to stimuli, adapt to the environment, move and respire (Keil, 1994). The fact that living things have to function successfully during all phases of evolution in order to survive (Keil, 1994) collides with the evolutionary adaptation of architectures that are designed based on static constraints (Knippers and Speck, 2012). In addition, it directs towards the concept of nature as the generating force that makes architectures naturally evolve and respond to changing environments (Frazer, 1995), also in order to endure.

The geodesic sphere as imagined, walking with people in Trafalgar Square.

The geodesic sphere as imagined, walking with people in Trafalgar Square.

Flexibility and energy have been proven to be two of the most important aspects in architectural efficiency. Embodied as the architecture that improves people’s welfare, designing for working with nature is the path to reduce energy consuming; in every single aspect of its fabrication and the fabrication of its components and elements (Foster, 2003). Flexibility, in turn, has its definition by the Oxford dictionary – along with others, as ‘the ability to be easily modified’ and ‘the willingness to change or compromise’. Every living thing is also considerably a flexible thing. They all modify, change or compromise. Therefore, why not to make architectures that respond to living organisms and mimic the behaviour of the human body instead? In order to do so, they also need to be flexible; respond, adapt, move and respire.

Google Headquarters by Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick

Google Headquarters by Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick – The first steps of an efficient flexible architecture

In nature, not all organisms have skeletons. Single cell organisms, for instance, require little in the way of a structural system. However, when organisms become more complex and increase in size, they develop the need of a support structure of some kind. Human beings have an endoskeleton: skeleton on the inside of their bodies (Nordin and Frankel, 2001). Insects and other arthropods, on the other hand, have an exoskeleton (it basically works the opposite way to the endoskeleton) which is a rigid protective layer on the outside of their bodies. In nature, the four main functions of both the endoskeleton and the exoskeleton are protection, structure, movement and communication (Nordin and Frankel, 2001). In science, exoskeletons have been designed as a feasible way to enhance human strength, endurance, and speed, and also to help people either with restricted or without any movement capabilities (Pratt, Krupp, Morse, and Collins, 2004). In sum, an exoskeleton device is to provide balance, control and most of the energy required to work alongside gravity while the “operator” stays in control, determining at what time and where to move (Pratt, Krupp, Morse, and Collins, 2004). As suggested by Donald Ingber in the article entitled ‘The Architecture of Life’, the principles of tensegrity apply at essentially every detectable scale in the exoskeleton. The complexity of tensegrity structures, such as the geodesic dome, is comprehended by several features such as structure, joints, ligaments, connections, closings and many others, in its own scale and configuration (Ingber, 1998).

Buckminster Fuller's Proposal of a Protective Dome over Manhattan

Buckminster Fuller’s Proposal of a Protective Dome over Manhattan

In that sense, the design works as a protective steel-meshed exoskeleton that plays with the speculative notion that, in order to save the world from an ecological catastrophe, we should protect ourselves indoors. It criticizes, however, the proposals of cities covered by glass domes being the solution to stop life from ending by protecting the humanity from environmental hazards (Petit, 2014). ‘The Exoskeleton of Life’ will house and protect life but will continuously interact with the external environment. The garden and its plants represent the living things that will be enclosed within this limited architectural space. We, as humans, are life-dependent on plants. Therefore, to support this movement and promote individual awareness, the geodesic sphere has the ambition to be a structure that allows plants to autonomously commute. Raised from the ground level to the height of the observer’s eyes, it is a personification of plants that occupy a notorious and physical space within our society. Thus, it spreads and repopulates the native life that it carries in its core, taking seeds from the enclosed-limited space to this new-broad natural environment called planet Earth.

'BigB' Imagined as an Explorer in Kew Gardens

‘BigB’ Imagined as an Explorer in Kew Gardens

 

Click here for more information on “The reEarth Project“.

 


 

References

Fuller, R. B. (1969). Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Book.

Frazer, J. (1995), an Evolutionary Architecture. Architectural Association Publications, Themes VII

Kronenburg, R. (2007), Flexible: Architecture that Responds to Change. Laurence King Publishing

Keil, F. (1994). The Birth and Nurturance of Concepts by Domains: The Origins of Concepts of Living Things; Pp. 234-254. Cambridge University Press.

Foster, N. (2003). Architecture and Sustainability. Essay. Foster + Partners.

Ingber, D. E. (1998). The Architecture of Life. Scientific American, 278(1), 48-57.

Pratt, J. E., Krupp, B. T., Morse, C. J., & Collins, S. H. (2004). The Roboknee: An Exoskeleton for Enhancing Strength and Endurance During Walking. In Robotics and Automation, 2004. Proceedings. ICRA’04. 2004 IEEE International Conference on (Vol. 3, Pp. 2430-2435). IEEE.

Knippers, J., & Speck, T. (2012). Design and Construction Principles in Nature and Architecture. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 7(1), 015002.

Pottmann, H., Eigensatz, M., Vaxman, A., & Wallner, J. (2014). Architectural geometry. Computers & Graphics.

Nordin, M. and Frankel, V. (2001). Basic Biomechanics of the Musculoskeletal System. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

 

Online

Petit, E. (2014). Under the Dome: The Architecture of an Other Modernity [Video File]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/116871847

The Buckminster Fuller Institute. [Website – Online]. Available at: https://bfi.org/

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